Typical Automatic Transmission Problems: Symptoms and Reasons


Top 5 typical symptoms of a failing automatic transmission


1. Slipping gears

Slipping transmission means that the engine is revving higher than it should when you are driving and so lacking power. Other warning signs to note would be:


  • Difficulty in shifting the transmission into the next gears
  • Unusually high RPM (rotation per minute) values
  • Strange sliding sounds when between gears
  • A burning smell of the ATF
  • A check engine light


All these symptoms above can mean an ill running engine or worn clutches. Usually, replacing clutches, bands and other internal parts will need an impact from a professional transmission technician.


If you aim at fixing slipping gears in your transmission by yourself, make sure you are not targeting ‘wrong’ parts and check on the solutions given above in this list. Also, remember to verify your transmission in the transmission finder.


2. No shifting or Hard shifting

There may be a range of internal parts invoking this issue. Insufficient pressure can be due to pistons, solenoids and fluid pump failures. Also, this might be an issue with shift cables or the clutch linkage as well as with the car's computer system. Sometimes, computer system failure is fixed by rebooting. Reconnect it after disconnection for 20-30 minutes. However, in the majority of cases we recommend having a transmission professional check it out for you.


Check if you have parked on a hill as this can cause your vehicle to get out of ‘Park’ with difficulty due to extreme pressure on the park mechanism. This is usually not related to transmission problems.


3. Shuddering

The symptom of a shuddering transmission is usually due to wear or pressure issues with bands or clutches when they lose their holding capacities. In fact, this can also be due to ATF problems, ill running engine, valve body issues, transmission computer giving out improper signals and more. Have a trusted technician analyze this issue and all the associated systems.


4. Delays

Spotting delays in shifting is quite easily. It is possible to merely observe the time between consecutive shifts. Some most frequent transmission problems that these delays can mean:


  • Transmission solenoid issues
  • Problems with the engine
  • Low level of ATF or its dirty condition
  • Worn out transmission filter
  • Clutch or torque converter issues
  • Transmission cooler failure


5. Noises in neutral gear

It is fairly easy to spot them as you can barely miss odd sounds emitted from the transmission only while you're in neutral and not moving. These are straightforward indicators that your transmission or engine could be the culprit. The common issues include the following:


  • Worn-out bearings
  • Loose internal components
  • Loose exhaustion system
  • Problems with the engine


All of these symptoms require a thorough inspection of your vehicle’s systems. You can do some of these checks at your garage. These typically point to where you should do a more thorough inspection with transmission professionals’ assistance.



Top 5 reasons for automatic transmission problems


1. Improper transmission maintenance or sheer lack of it

Stay vigilant of keeping it to the manufacturer's maintenance recommendations. This relates to serviceability of your engine and transmission more than anything else. It is also important to change transmission fluid and ATF filters at the recommended mileage and time intervals. Conditions at which the vehicle is driven are particularly impactful too: harsh terrains, extreme cold or heat, towing, hilly areas. ATF is the transmission lifeblood and its deterioration will cause the gearbox to break down without proper lubrication due to overheating.


2. Leaks (poor gaskets and seal)

Typically, transmission leaks are easy to remedy but their effects can be quite devastating and entail serious internal transmission issues. Leaking gaskets or seals in the axle and driveshaft areas lead to low ATF, burnt fluid, overheating and irrevocable damage. Mere adding ATF will not heal these symptoms.


Spotting transmission leaks is imperative, and it can be a quick and somewhat inexpensive solution to repair a cooling line or a pan gasket. Seals for axles, output shafts or converters are bigger work but replacing them early on means saving a hefty sum of money on transmission replacement or rebuilding.


3. Torque converter

A torque converter drives the fluid pump and is responsible for transferring torque, generated at the engine, to the transmission and then to the wheels of the vehicle. A damaged torque converter will cause transmission overheating as well as juddering and may prevent the transmission from going into high gears.


Many transmission issues overlap in their symptoms, so it is necessary to check the complete system before rushing to blame your torque converter. Its replacement is not cheap but you can buy a rebuilt torque converter and have it replaced in a local transmission shop.


4. Solenoid issues

Solenoids are crucial in transmission upshifting and downshifting. They are often the cause of all valve body troubles. There are multiple symptoms associated with solenoid issues:

  • Random patterns of shifting
  • A gear won’t be enacted
  • Delays in shifting
  • Slipping shifts


Vehicle computer signals the solenoids how much pressure is required, when and how fast shifting is needed and when not to shift. At that, solenoids move hundreds of times per second so their safe condition is vital. In fact, solenoid replacement is not a cumbersome task.


5. Valve body issues

Valve body is responsible for distribution of pressure to the proper channels and for activating particular clutches. A faulty transmission valve body is a harbinger of serious troubles and may create alarming situations when changing gears.


The main symptoms of a bad transmission valve body are:


  • Banging or knocking sounds when applying pressure to the brakes
  • Sudden slowing down when in reverse or driving backwards
  • When changing the gears, the shifting stick is slipping regularly
  • Transmission troubles if downshifting
  • Stucking in neutral

A valve body cannot be repaired in home conditions so we advise you refer to local valve body experters.



Finding quality transmission insights and reliable information is not an easy task for transmission specialists who are often either busy with transmission repairs or have their hands covered in oil after a transmission fluid change. All in all, we may be exaggerating a bit but finding these materials is a timely process indeed. We at go4trans.com have got it covered for you! There is a lot you can learn about transmission problem solutions and new transmission models being launched, we also try to interview transmission industry professionals so they can share some of their experience and stories with our readers. We have also included what we find to be events of interest for anyone related to the transmission industry: you check dates, venues, profile and more details on the upcoming industry events. We have got food for thought that you need!

You can add your own material at go4trans.com. If you want to share a story related to your business or if you want to highlight some industry news and introduce it to fellow specialists, we encourage you to submit your material to us by contacting us through the contact form or this email: info@go4trans.com.



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